Health Tech News This Week – July 30, 2022

What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.

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Verily’s heart-tracking wearable evolves into the Zio Watch via iRhythm partnership, new FDA clearances

Connor Hale’s article in Fierce Biotech begins the coverage this week. Verily first won an agency clearance for its ECG-equipped Study Watch in 2019 as a prescription-only wearable designed to help keep tabs on participants in clinical studies. The following year, the Alphabet division added an FDA green light for detecting signs of atrial fibrillation amid an ongoing collaboration with the digital heart monitoring maven iRhythm. Now, that project has evolved into the new Zio Watch, Verily said in a company blog post, sharing the branding of iRhythm’s patch-like Zio devices that stick to the chest to track cardiac signals.

Why it’s important – According to iRhythm, Zeus is designed to not only spot signs of AFib but characterize their seriousness over time to help aid diagnosis. Using the watch’s light-based pulse sensors, the software calculates an AFib burden estimate and delivers a report to the patient’s clinician for review. In a study comparing the latest smartwatch’s AFib accuracy with the chest-worn Zio XT patch, the Zeus system delivered a false-negative rate of 6.4% and a false-positive rate of less than 1%, iRhythm said.

Infographic of the week – From our friends up North comes this infographic showing some of the many startups focusing on agetech in Canada. You’ll see some familiar names here. For my detailed discussion on technologies that support aging in place, see my previous post here.

Image Credit: Agewell

Medicine and the metaverse: New tech allows doctors to travel inside of your body

Is anyone reading this post old enough to remember the 1966 movie based on the Issac Azimov book Fantastic Voyage? (OK, maybe it’s only me.) Louis B. Rosenberg’s article in Venture Beat brings us the current thinking on how technology and specifically telepresence, can bring the movie’s concept closer to becoming a reality. A startup company in Hayward, California, has recently “flown” a tiny robot inside the digestive tract of human subjects. The company is Endiatx, and Rosenberg had a chance to discuss its technology and vision with CEO Torrey Smith.

Pillbot (TM) Image Credit:

Why it’s important – Torrey himself was the first person on the planet to have a robotic drone flown inside his stomach. He volunteered, swallowing the first prototype that made a truly fantastic voyage. Since that initial test, others at the company have swallowed working prototypes many times, capturing live video of the type that will one day be used to screen patients for ulcers, gastritis, cancers, and other ailments. And that day is not far off – the team is currently conducting cadaver tests with doctors at the Mayo Clinic and is planning trials for FDA approval. If all goes smoothly, the PillBot could be diagnosing patients worldwide by 2024. This could be a huge benefit for individuals who go to the doctor with stomach pain. Instead of having a standard endoscopy procedure, which generally requires sedation and involves multiple visits, the tiny swallowable robot could save time, money, and complexity, giving doctors a quick and easy way to look around inside their patients. And it may provide more flexible control than a traditional endoscope, as the untethered Pillbot has the full 3D mobility of a tiny robotic submarine.

Industry Voices—Virtual care should address transition points in our fragmented system

Another interesting article in Fierce Healthcare, authored by my former Sg2 colleague Linette Demers, Program Director for the Digital Medicine Society, and Geoff Matous, President and Chief Commercial Officer of Wellinks. The authors contend that with healthcare facing a pivotal moment of digital transition and the Biden administration recently announcing investments in high-speed internet to power that shift, we have maybe the most significant opportunity of our lifetimes to transform the care ecosystem. But they say we are squandering this moment if we only focus on siloed, add-on telehealth or remote monitoring solutions that mirror the fragmentation and unreliable care transitions of our existing system. As the healthcare industry adapts, we must thoughtfully implement digital technology at every step and every transition in the care journey to create the connective tissue that makes patient-centered, team-based care a reality.

Why it’s important – Virtual-first care models designed with individual patients at the center enable more frequent and personalized touchpoints, offer access to support in moments of need, and provide the support for individuals to become more active participants in their health, which has been shown to drive meaningful outcomes. The work that the Digital Medicine Society and their partners are doing to create a framework for creating a virtual-first strategy is vitally important. Check it out here and join the conversation.

Welcome to Digital Health – A site dedicated to the field of digital health, digital medicine and digital therapeutics.

Dr. Daniel Kraft and his team announced they had built a new platform: Digital.Health, which just launched this week as a resource for clinicians and anyone involved in healthcare innovation to help accelerate the use of and democratization of effective digital health solutions around the planet. Digital.Health is designed as a resource to enable you to find, review and share digital health solutions. The platform also includes resources including digital health-related academic journals, top news, regulatory guidance, funding opportunities, podcasts, an interactive community, and more.

Image Credit: Digital.Health

Why it’s important – I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Kraft’s work at Exponential Medicine and other platforms. The platform he and his team have created, even in its early form, will serve as a trusted, curated resource for information, technologies, and companies making the digital health future. Their directory of solutions is intelligently matched to search criteria. It enables you to find and save products into your own own “digital health formulary” as well as to share selected solutions with patients or colleagues.

The Whole PERSON Health Score: A Patient-Focused Tool to Measure Nonmedical Determinants of Health (Subscription Required)

Riverside University Health System developed a novel and holistic patient-centered assessment tool named the Whole PERSON Health Score (WPHS) to address these critical needs. This article discusses the framework for developing, implementing, and evaluating the WPHS in multidisciplinary, primary care, and safety-net setting. The assessment tool consists of 28 questions (or elements) across six domains of health (one for each letter in the PERSON score [Physical Health, Emotional Health, Resource Utilization, Socioeconomics, Ownership, and Nutrition and Lifestyle]) that were chosen based on a literature review of factors that affect lifespan, mortality, and longevity. The patient receives a letter grade ranging from A (the best) to Z (the worst) in each domain. The A–Z letter assignment is not based on a normalized calculation. Instead, letter assignment is based on the anticipated impact on life expectancy. The grades are classified into three colors — red, yellow, and green — based on the severity of the intervention needed. This color-coding system highlights the areas of critical need and prompts the provider to engage with the patient to act.

Why it’s important – The development of a plan to deliver health care in America often ignores the nonmedical deficits in patients’ socioeconomic resources, well-being, and quality of life, all of which contribute to patient dissatisfaction, poor clinical outcomes, and higher health care costs and utilization. Social determinants of health have been recognized as significant contributors to health, well-being, and, ultimately, longevity. Still, they have been largely unaddressed in primary care because clinicians lack the tools and training to incorporate them while delivering routine care. This excellent framework provides such a tool. The WPHS nudges health care teams to prioritize nontraditional upstream patient needs, including emotional health, ownership, and social determinants of health.

These Vaccines Will Take Aim at Covid—and Its Entire SARS Lineage

Maggie Chen writes in Wired Science that scientists are developing vaccines to target the virus family that spawned Covid-19. Their efforts could thwart future variants or even new related viruses. This pipeline already has several candidates; some have been tested in primates or mice, and one is undergoing a small clinical trial for people. All exploit commonalities shared by sarbecoviruses that could be used to combat their entire lineage. Her article examines some of the various options being considered, including Mosaic Nanoparticle Vaccines and other nanoparticle designs.

“So having something that targets this entire category of viruses might be useful for preventing, or at least mitigating, any future outbreaks.”

Alex Cohen, postdoctoral researcher at Caltech

Why it’s important – Leveraging the work done to combat COVID-19, the development of rapid nanoparticle vaccines will help us address not only future variants of the coronavirus but also create a platform for vaccine development to address the next pandemic the world will face.

MIT engineers develop stickers that can see inside the body

Jennifer Chu from the MIT News Office reports that researchers have developed new stamp-sized ultrasound adhesives that produce clear images of the heart, lungs, and other internal organs for 48 hours. The researchers applied the stickers to volunteers and showed the devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs, and stomach. The stickers maintained a strong adhesion and captured changes in underlying organs as volunteers performed various activities, including sitting, standing, jogging, and biking.

YouTube Video Credit: MIT

Why it’s important – The team is working to make the stickers function wirelessly. They are also developing software algorithms based on artificial intelligence to better interpret and diagnose the stickers’ images. Then, Zhao envisions ultrasound stickers could be packaged and purchased by patients and consumers, and used not only to monitor various internal organs, but also the progression of tumors, as well as the development of fetuses in the womb.

‘New era in digital biology’: AI reveals structures of nearly all known proteins

John Travis in Science, Technology reports that a new advance from DeepMind’s AlphaFold software could revolutionize biology and medicine. This week, the company unveiled the likely structures of nearly all known proteins, more than 200 million from bacteria to humans, a striking achievement for AI and a potential treasure trove for drug development and evolutionary studies. The structural bounty comes from AlphaFold, one of the new AI programs that have cracked the protein-folding problem, the long-standing challenge of accurately deriving the 3D shapes of proteins from their amino acid sequences. AlphaFold’s newly predicted structures were released yesterday into an existing database through a partnership with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). The database “has provided structural biologists with this powerful new tool where you can look up the 3D structure of a protein almost as quickly as you can do a keyword Google search.

“AlphaFold is the singular and momentous advance in life science that demonstrates the power of AI. With this new addition of structures illuminating nearly the entire protein universe, we can expect more biological mysteries to be solved each day.”

Eric Topol, M.D., Director, Scripps Research Translational Institute

Why it’s important – DeepMind says more than 500,000 researchers have already used the database since its launch last year. Hassabis predicted a “new era in digital biology” in which drug developers could go from AI-predicted structures of proteins important to any medical condition to using AI to design small molecules that influence those proteins—and therefore treat an illness. Others use the structure predictions to develop vaccine candidates, probe basic biology questions such as how the so-called nuclear pore complex gatekeeps which molecules enter a cell’s nucleus, or examine the evolution of proteins when life first evolved.

True Angle To Study The Mobili -T In Combination With Varian’s Noona Patient Engagement Platform In The Treatment Of Swallowing Disorders

Finally, this week, this press release in Medgadget. True Angle, a health technology company, has launched a research project to explore the use of health technology to improve patient outcomes in treating dysphagia (or swallowing disorder), supported by a grant from Alberta Innovates. The research project involves deploying True Angle’s Mobili-T system with the digital Noona® platform from Varian, a Siemens Healthineers company. Noona is a digital solution for patient engagement and outcomes management, initially developed for use in oncology. The plan is to utilize Noona together with True Angle’s Mobili-T swallowing exercise system, which treats dysphagia, a common condition for patients dealing with head and neck cancer, Parkinson’s, or stroke.

Why it’s important – I’ve had the privilege of meeting with True Angle Founder and CEO Dr. Jana Rieger and discuss her work. Jana and the team at True Angle have developed the Mobili-T: a wearable device that uses software-enabled biofeedback technology to deliver a clinically-validated method to target swallowing function for the 500 million people globally who are suffering from a swallowing disorder because of common medical conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, or head and neck cancer. The grant from Alberta Innovates will enable True Angle to work with the Edmonton-based Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM) and the University of Alberta Hospital Department of Head and Neck Surgery in conducting this research. This will potentially inform a value-based healthcare model initiated by iRSM to improve cancer patients’ outcomes.

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